An Essay On Liberal Hermeneutics -- By: Mike Stallard

Journal: Conservative Theological Journal
Volume: CTJ 03:10 (Dec 1999)
Article: An Essay On Liberal Hermeneutics
Author: Mike Stallard

An Essay On Liberal Hermeneutics

Mike Stallard

Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, PA


The present composition attempts to expound on the meaning and development of liberal hermeneutics. At first glance, this is a frightful task. Both terms, liberal and hermeneutics have been and continue to be with increasing rapidity moving targets within the world of biblical scholarship. The investigation must also hazard the popular notions of such words, especially the tag of liberal. Oftentimes in our Christian circles, the word liberal means “anyone who doesn’t agree with my standards of holiness.” Arguments over dress codes, theater attendance, and other items on the various Christian taboo lists become the focus of debate. For this article, such popular notions of the word liberal will not be disputed.

Classical Liberalism

While such discussions have their place, the focal point of this essay can be found in the multi-faceted movement within Christendom which rose out of the development of higher critical approaches to the Bible along with (and leading to) a humanistic expression of theology. Generally, the movement views the early nineteenth century German Frederick Schleiermacher as its “father,” although several philosophical streams were watering the conversations about God and His Word.1 Whatever else can be said about this particular movement, there is the certain devaluing of the supernatural so that inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible are not a possibility. In addition, in liberalism theology is reduced to anthropology.2

What we have been describing is “classical liberalism.” Its use of the Bible was often limited to the ethical statements of Jesus without any focus on the supernatural elements. Adherents were also frequently enmeshed in a quest for the “historical” Jesus, the real Jesus hidden somewhere within the pages of Scripture. It was assumed that the picture of Jesus in the New Testament was the creation of the Church

and not the real Jesus who actually lived in space and time. In addition, classical liberalism’ s understanding of man included the belief that every man has a spark of divinity within him. Such a rosy picture of man, besides denigrating the doctrine of sin, was reinforced by Darwin’s theory of evolution which provided a biological rationale for belief in the inevitability of human progress, a naive belief that survived until the great World Wars and the Holocaust of the twentieth century.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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